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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

Study tours

Cuba: Havana and Washington - Renewed Relations

November 2-9, 2017

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Cuba and the United States startled the world in December 2015 by announcing their agreement to normalize relations after a half-century of hostility. What a perfect occasion to visit Cuba to contemplate the changes that this renewed diplomacy might inspire for both countries!

We'll stay at Hotel Nacional, whose Ameri­can guests—from musicians to the mob—are legendary. Our Cuban guides will introduce us to the haunting beauties of Old Havana and sites important to our interwoven pasts: Havana harbor, site of the sinking of the USS Maine, and the Capitolio and the Presidential Palace, where U.S.-picked politicians (including former president Mario Garcia Menocal, a Cornell alum) ruled Cuba. On two day trips, we'll visit Matanzas, the "Athens of Cuba," and the sunny landscapes and caves of the Valle de Viñales.

Eminent Cuban scholars will talk with us about how Cuba is changing—politically, socially, and economically. For our faculty leader, historian Maria Cristina Garcia, this change is personal; she was born in Cuba and moved to the U.S. in the early 1960s. She will shed light on what "normalized" relations might mean going forward. All the while, we will experience Cuba's music, its architectural splendors, and the warmth of its people, even perhaps drinking a toast to Hemingway at his favorite bar, El Floridita.

Maria Cristina Garcia

History professor Maria Cristina Garcia studies refugees, immigrants, exiles, and transnationals in the Americas. She considers herself primarily a historian of twentieth century U.S. history, but her interest in mobile populations has increasingly blurred the geographic borders of her work.

Maria... > more

Program notes

  • Download the program itinerary.
  • Double occupancy: $5,925 per person
  • Single supplement: $860 per person
  • See What's included?
  • See Travel links and resources.
  • Fitness scale: Slightly strenuous. May require extended walking over uneven ground as well as the ability to climb stairs and to stand for considerable periods of time.
A team of oxen in Valle de Vinales, Cuba

A team of oxen in Valle de Vinales, Cuba

Preliminary itinerary

November 2: U.S. / Havana

Arrive in Havana.

Upon arrival, meet your local Cuban guide and drive to the Plaza de la Revolución, the most politically important square in Cuba and one of the largest city squares in the world. Continue on to the Hotel Nacional for a mojito in the hotel's Hall of Fame. The Hotel Nacional is an iconic hotel opened in 1930 when Cuba was a prime travel destination for Americans. Enjoy lunch at La Barraca, located outside on the beautiful grounds of the hotel.

After lunch, visit the Presidential Palace, a huge ornate building topped by a dome and now known as the home of the Revolutionary Museum. The history of Cuban political development is illustrated here from the slave uprisings to joint missions with the ex-Soviet Union. A few minutes away by foot is the Granma Memorial, which preserves the vessel that brought Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and other revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba in 1956.

Before dinner enjoy an introductory lecture followed by a welcome cocktail reception and dinner on the rooftop of a private restaurant.


November 3: Havana

After breakfast, drive to Old Havana. Of all the capital cities in the Caribbean, Havana has the reputation of being the most splendid, with the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture in the Americas. Restoration work in the old part of the city reveals its past glory.

Accompanied by our local guide, we will walk to the center of Old Havana to view a scale model of the area, which serves as an excellent introduction to the layout of the city. Close by is the Plaza de Armas, which was built in 1584 for military exercises. The square is surrounded by some of Havana's oldest buildings, many former homes of Cuba's wealthiest families.

End the morning at the Cathedral of Saint Christopher on the cobbled Plaza de la Catedral, described by one Cuban writer as "music set in stone." Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, La Moneda Cubana.

After lunch, enjoy a city orientation tour by bus (and foot) led by Ayleen Robaina, an architectural historian. The tour will include a stop at the University of Havana as well as an inside visit to the wonderful Riviera Hotel. Explore the City Garden of El Vedado and the Parque Copelia, an entire block of lush park. In the middle of the park, visit a remarkable design icon, an ice cream parlor designed in 1966, which serves an estimated 30,000 customers a day.

Before returning to the hotel, visit the Colon Cemetery to learn more about this beautiful cemetery, which was built in 1869 by Galician architect Calixto Arellano de Loira y Cardoso. Colon Cemetery is a historical catalog of the forces that shaped Havana, and it gives context to wide variety of architectural styles still found in the city.

Enjoy the dinner and the music of a wonderful jazz trio this evening at Café Oriente.


November 4: Havana

Begin the day with breakfast followed by a round-table discussion on U.S./Cuban relations led by Professor Raul Rodriguez from the University of Havana. After the discussion, watch a rehearsal of the extraordinary Danza Contemporanea de Cuba.

Enjoy lunch at the home and studio of artist Jose Fuster, who has turned his neighborhood into one enormous piece of mosaic art. Fuster's creations include a vast array of artwork from ceramics evoking the nation's African roots to whimsical paintings drawn from ordinary life in Cuba: commuters crowded inside creaky, smoke-belching buses and dominoes games in backyards and street corners. Then visit the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), converted by President Fidel Castro in 1961 from a country club to an arts complex, and recently reopened with schools of music, ballet, modern dance, theater, and fine arts.

End the day with a visit to NostalgiCar, a classic car mechanic shop, where you will meet with the owner of the shop and learn about his business of restoring old American cars. Dinner this evening is at L'Atelier.


November 5: Havana

Drive to Matanzas, the "Athens of Cuba." Matanzas began to flourish after large sugar mills were established in the region between 1817 and 1827. By the second half of the nineteenth century, Matanzas was the second largest city in Cuba, boasting a newspaper, a library, and a philharmonic orchestra.

Explore the historic quarter including Plaza de la Vigia. The Matanzas fire brigade still has its headquarters in the neo-classical Parque de los Bomberos close by. Stop at the Ediciones Vigia, which produces hand-made first edition books on a range of topics. The books are typed, stenciled, and pasted in editions of 200 books. There will be a chance to meet with director Agustina Ponce and a number of the artisans who work with her.

After lunch at the Matanzas Seminary, enjoy a performance in the chapel by the Matanzas Chamber Choir. Return to Havana for a late afternoon reception at the Ludwig Foundation, an organization committed to the promotion of art in Cuba. Dinner at La Torre.


November 6: Havana

After breakfast meet with Marc Frank, author of Cuba Revelation: Behind the Scenes in Havana. The dean of resident foreign journalists in Havana, Frank has reported from Cuba since the mid-1990s. Then visit the Museo de Bellas Artes accompanied by Lucila Fernandez, a curator of contemporary art.

Enjoy lunch at a restaurant near the ArteCorte community, then learn more about the community project run by salon owner Gilberto Valladares (Papito). Supported by Eusebio Leal from the City Historian's office, Papito has been actively restoring his neighborhood with cooperation from the city. He has opened a school for barbers in the area, provides free haircuts on certain days of the week, and is helping to develop a children's park with a barber theme—think giant playground-size barber poles!

Before returning to the hotel, visit Havana's largest synagogue, the Patronato. More than 85 percent of Cuba's estimated Jewish population of 1,500 lives in Havana. Schedule permitting, Adela Dworin, head of Havana's Jewish community, will meet the group at the synagogue.

Enjoy dinner at the private home of art curator Milagros Gomez.


November 7: Havana

Depart the hotel early for a full-day excursion to the west part of Cuba, with its jungle-covered summits dropping down limestone cliffs to verdant valleys. Drive along one of the new roads in Cuba to the town of Vinales. Stop en route at the Orchid Farm at Soroa, which is maintained by the University of Pinar del Rio. The hilly grounds contain over 800 species of plants.

Continue to the Valle de Vinales, Cuba's most famous landscape. This area was the last refuge of the Ciboney, the hunter-gatherers who were pushed here by the more advanced Taino. The province's mountainous landscape is riddled with caves, some running for many kilometers, in which Ciboney burial and cave paintings have been found. Visit a small tobacco farm and enjoy some time to wander through the small town of Vinales.

Stop for lunch at a beautiful organic farm, with beautiful views of the mogotes, the 250-million-year-old loaf-shaped limestone mountains. After lunch, spend some time exploring the town of Vinales before returning to the hotel in the early evening.


November 8: Havana

After breakfast, drive to Vivero Alamar, a cooperative research garden, to learn more about urban gardening in Havana. Meet with manager Miguel Angel Salcines and other staff at the garden. Then visit Ernest Hemingway's home, which is just as Hemingway left it, with the books on the tables and many of his favorite photographs on display. While it is not possible to go inside the house, the windows are left open so visitors can view the interior.

After lunch at El Ajibe, visit the Felix Varela Cultural Center, which is housed in the beautiful San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary, located in the heart of old Havana. Schedule permitting, the group will meet with Gustavo Andujar, the acting editor in chief of the magazine Espacio Laical (Lay Space). Both the magazine and its editors have been the target of harsh criticism from the media controlled by exiles and by some opponents of the Cuban government, because of its critical support of the process of reforms being carried out by the Cuban government.

Enjoy your farewell dinner at La Guarida, a well-known restaurant that served as the setting for the main apartment in the film Fresa y Chocolate.


November 9: Return to U.S.

Return flight to the U.S.



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